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Will Legal Pot Hurt the Booze Business? What Do You Think?

With marijuana law reform sweeping the nation, will consumers be driven to drink more or less alcohol?

As the legalization of recreational marijuana gains momentum across the United States with public support at an all-time high, many advocates eagerly await to see what effect legalization will have on big alcohol.  Will it be forced to fight for market share? Or is alcohol so heavily ingrained in our society that pot legalization will barely create a ripple with booze consumption remaining unaffected?

In the cannabis reform movement, it is an article of faith that the more pot is legally accessible, the less booze will be consumed, but is there evidence to support that theory?   The answer to the overall question likely depends on how cannabis and alcohol interact in  our culture, that is, whether pot will complement booze and vice versa or whether people will choose pot as an alternative to drinking.

As Forbes explains, if the two substances are complements, then states legalizing marijuana would expect to see more consumption on both sides, which may increase competition and likely exacerbate pre-existing health concerns about over-consumption of alcohol, particularly in this era of mixing red bull and other highly caffeinated drinks with booze.   However, if pot truly becomes a substitute for alcohol, than legalizing marijuana may reduce alcohol consumption.

According to economists, D. Mark Anderson and Daniel Rees, co-authors of the most recent research on this topic published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, marijuana and alcohol are substitutes rather than complementary substances.  

The co-authors cite a number of prior studies ranging from 2001-2013, which illustrate that as marijuana becomes more readily available, adults respond by drinking less, not more, with pot legalization associated with a reduction in heavy drinking amongst 18 to 29-year-olds and a five percent decrease in beer sales.

“We expect that legalization of recreational marijuana will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use,” the study revealed.

Consequently, economists predict pot legalization will produce a number of public health benefits, which will directly impact upon alcohol.

“There are many social benefits to legalizing marijuana. With legalization comes the benefit of reduced traffic fatalities and decreases in other social harms caused by alcohol consumption such as the rate of suicide.  Overall, we predict the public-health benefits of legalization to be positive,” Anderson explained to AlterNet.

This is consistent with a 2011 study comparing the relative physical, psychological, and social harms of alcohol to cannabis, which showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users and five times more harmful as cannabis to society.  Co-author of that study, Dr. David Nutt, stood by those findings this week, claiming that alcohol consumption could fall as much as 25 percent if Dutch-style cannabis cafes were allowed.

So how has big alcohol responded to such claims about its “ beloved beverages?”  Last week, AlterNet reported that booze lobbyists were becoming increasingly pissed off at weed campaigns for drawing such comparisons between the two substances, which they say paint alcohol in a bad light. 

At issue, was the latest move by pot lobbyist group, Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in displaying signs around Portland, Maine leading up to the city’s latest pot victory, which read: “ I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it doesn't make me rowdy or reckless," and " I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it's less harmful to my body.”

Similar previous campaigns likening the health effects of the two substances such as the “Yes on 64” Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol have also been successful in debunking the myth that alcohol is safer than pot, resulting in legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado. 

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